I have a riddle for you: what starts the day, and ends it, in two halfs, has the stretchiest skin known to humanity and is the bane of drivers everywhere? Cyclists!
Lack of artistic talent and poor jokes aside, I would love to reserve some of your busy Londoner hours to talk about our lord and saviour, the bicycle. Naff though it may sound, this contraption, made in 1817, has some incredible science behind it, such as it’s efficiency, making a human on a bicycle the most efficient combination in nature. Ever since the nineteenth century, man has yearned for that two-wheeled wonder like the people of Greek mythology, wanting to be joined with their other half after Zeus’s bisection of mankind, captured by Hedwig and the angry Inch. Well, that is the more poetic version anyway.
Cycling has become far more popular recently, specifically recreationally, which has sparked debate about the class implications of cycling. I am hesitant to address this as I have plenty of friends, acquaintances and colleagues, who love to cycle, and aren’t white, middle class or kicking around their 40s. Besides, breaking class down by the number of gears you have on your bike seems a bit reductive to me. Instead, I would like to talk about why you should cycle around London.
Starting with perhaps the most important aspect of cycling, at least if you pay attention to the news, the impact it has on the planet. I could launch into a spiel about why you should opt for bikes over cars, but most students don’t drive, and, if they do, they certainly don’t drive around London – too many red lights and gridlocks. So, attempting to know my audience, why cycle, when you could hop on the 277 or the Central line – both better than cars, but nevertheless polluting? For starters, there is the cost. Conventional wisdom has it that some wise bike-sage said not to buy a bike £1 under £300. That figure is nothing to laugh at, but let’s assume you travel into work, on the tube, from zone 3 to zone 1, there and back three days a week, costing £2.80. You do that for 46 weeks of the year, and you are spending £772.80 a year on travel. It starts paying for itself after eighteen weeks. That, plus the fact that the fuel you’re burning is the meal deal you had for lunch, rather than a 65 million year old reptile. Embracing the concept of consumer power, I say take the sting out of the carbon emissions graphs and put it in your hamstrings.
While on the subject of hamstrings, let’s talk about the health-side of cycling. There is not much that I can say that isn’t said better here. But, the long and short of it is the various conditions you’re fending off, from cancer to arthritis, gained from using your body, rather than the sedentary trip of a bus or train. Not to mention that you will be able to burn off some calories, if, of course you want to, it’s not a priority.
When talking about health, the mental side of it is a must. Beyond just the lovely views you might encounter on an evening cycle, through a common, there is the matter of the dopamine and endorphins that soup around in your head after some exercise. That Monday morning start could be a whole lot better if those synaptic clefts are adequately warmed up on your commute, not to mention the impact this has on the rest of your mental wellbeing, as a result of your regular exercise.
Altruistically, your more active mode of transport also benefits everyone in London, not just in terms of decreased air pollution, but noise as well. The streets of London, in many cases, are lined with houses, whether that be a full house, set of flats or one above a shop. And, not everyone can afford or be lucky enough to live in a quiet little residential heaven. For those who live on busy streets, every extra vehicle can be more than just an annoyance; it can be damaging for their health, both in terms of air quality and excessive noise. While a slew of lycra clad cyclists might be an arguable eyesore, they are better than the equally (if not more) ugly stream of cars, that can affect the observers in more ways than the visual.
With some of the positives out of the way, I should address the major “London issue”, in regards to cycling: its danger. Tell most mums, who have ever been to central London, that you’re planning a leisurely pedal through a Piccadilly Circus and they will call you a clown, appreciating that pun, you may or may not agree with her. But, she may be right in her assessment of you, if you don’t put a helmet on while cycling. (Here, at CUB, we take safety very seriously.) That being said, cycling in Central London IS dangerous and the statistics from previous years are grim. However, hope is on the horizon, already taken form in new road safety measures for cyclists. Many areas of London are gaining blue cycle paths, cyclist traffic lights (those two you can see around Mile End) and of course cyclist safety courses. We are now seeing many areas of London becoming more cycle friendly, with more and more roads giving up ground, from the car, to the cyclist, much to the dismay of most drivers. Speaking of other areas of London, we should consider that not all of London is as much of a danger spot as central; you can avoid that perceived graveyard if you want to.
With all those positives, and that negative being rapidly reduced, your reasons for riding a bike in London are as numerous as the spokes on a Pirelli Cinturato bike wheel.